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Gina DiStefano of USCHAG: Giving Feedback; How To Be Honest Without Being Hurtful

The more time we spend dancing around challenging issues, the more time is lost to more important things. I had the pleasure of interviewing Gina DiStefano. With over 15 years of restaurant franchise experience including people development, leadership coaching and talent acquisition, Gina DiStefano is a powerhouse whose ultimate intention is to help others live […]

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The more time we spend dancing around challenging issues, the more time is lost to more important things.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Gina DiStefano. With over 15 years of restaurant franchise experience including people development, leadership coaching and talent acquisition, Gina DiStefano is a powerhouse whose ultimate intention is to help others live great lives. She has coached on all levels from part-time employees to senior level executives.

Gina’s other passion is public speaking where her true, authentic-self shines through to her audience.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I grew up in a less than ideal household. From a young age, I knew what it felt like to feel not good enough and isolated. I learned how to fake happiness for myself while trying to make everyone else feel special. Little did I know then, that was preparing me for a lifelong, fulfilling career helping others. I started my career almost 20 years ago in recruiting. I learned people, inside and out. I learned how to talk to people, gain trust, and connect. I am so grateful for the start I was given. I realized early on; we’re all the same. After interviewing thousands of people throughout my career in recruiting and people development, I know everyone wants to feel special, understood, and excited about life. I became obsessed with helping people achieve that in their lives. But first, I had to achieve it in mine. It’s daily work, it’s excruciating at times, but it’s my calling, and I wouldn’t change any of it.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I was happily running my coaching firm for ten years when approached by USCHAG. It was a contract opportunity that soon turned into a full time executive leadership position. USCHAG is special. We are revolutionizing healthcare with advanced technologies like ML and Quantum processing. We are going to change the way the world handles healthcare. I’ve always chased experiences and opportunities over money. I’ve been blessed with money being a side-effect of those choices. The founders of this company lead with passion and heart. Each one of them has a personal, traumatic story linked to the formation of this company. It gives me goosebumps to be a part of it. How we came together was divine timing. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason; I trust in my instincts and the power of faith.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I am not a patient person; I believe that is my greatest lesson to master. As I become more seasoned in my career, I see so clearly how all the dots have connected when I look back. They aligned flawlessly through the relationships I’ve built and the experience I’ve created for others. It’s all about building others up. The best opportunities came to me, not my going after them. I don’t believe in coincidence; I believe we are all given an abundance of resources that can make our dreams come true if utilized correctly. I see my dreams coming true as a result of what I’ve put out into the universe. My struggle is with speed. I have an aggressive personality, and when things don’t come to fruition as fast as I’d like, I become discouraged. The most exciting part of my life story is that it always happens even better than I could have imagined. It’s all about trust and patience.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’ve made plenty of mistakes and continue to do so. I think the funniest thing about the mistakes I’ve made is that I didn’t even realize they were mistakes until much later. Ignorance is bliss. I cringe at approaches I took in the past, and completely inappropriate comments I’ve made, because I can’t help but speak my truth. I’m hoping as I age, I chill out a little, but it’s highly unlikely. If I had to share the funniest mistake I’ve ever made, it would have to be the time I didn’t realize I hit “reply all” to an email…You can imagine.

What advice would you give to other CEOs and business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

The best advice I can share is, we’re all juggling multiple balls all the time. Some of the balls are glass, and some are plastic. To avoid burnout, always keep that in mind. You’re going to fail, and you’re going to miss things, accept it. Always be mindful of what ball you’re dropping, glass or plastic. The higher up the ladder you climb, the harder it is to decipher, which is glass and which is plastic. Always remain incredibly cognizant. We crash when we think we have to maintain perfection. Once you accept that no one can achieve perfection, it becomes easier to maintain a healthy mental state.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

To me, leadership involves removing mental blocks in others to help them achieve their maximum potential. It means putting your ego aside to help foster an environment where everyone feels they’re important and that they matter. Leadership is often defined with a title or a position of power; it should be determined by how an individual makes others feel in their presence. I know I’m in the presence of remarkable leadership when I feel my authentic self. I work very hard with my team to ensure they always feel comfortable being their authentic selves. It’s in these moments when the synergy is on fire. Permitting people to stand in their power is my addiction. I love to watch people light up when they know they’re having an impact on others.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

I am a huge believer in visualization and mental preparation. Before any significant event, whether it be a meeting, termination, negotiation, etc., I play it out in my mind as if it’s already done. I focus on the feeling I will have after. I picture myself in complete control knowing the outcome. Because I’ve already stated the intention and played it out a hundred times in my mind, I know exactly what I’m going to wear, how I’m going to position myself, and the inflection I will use in my voice. Every detail counts. When I’m actually in the situation, I find myself calm, focused, and ready to win. I can achieve maximum mental preparation when my body is aligned. I find walking, music, and baths an opportune time to match my mental frequency to my physical, allowing clarity to come forth in the vision.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers about your experience with managing a team and giving feedback?

The most critical aspect of managing a team is to sit back and observe the natural group dynamics. Before even taking on the “management” piece, is everyone in the right position? Are they happy there? Are their talents being utilized, and do they feel valued? If not, that’s the first thing we need to figure out. It becomes much easier to give feedback, whether positive or negative, because the person BELIEVES you care about what is best for them, not the company’s bottom line. I learned early on in my career; the customer’s experience should not exceed that of the employee. You must keep your people happy; you must make them feel special, understood, and essential, or it will be a living nightmare to attempt to take people with you. Once I’ve gained my team’s trust, I can begin to engage them and attain their buy-in. Managing successful teams is all about collaboration, bring people together by showing them you care.

This might seem intuitive but it will be constructive to spell it out. Can you share with us a few reasons why giving honest and direct feedback is essential to being an effective leader?

It’s always imperative to give honest and direct feedback. It doesn’t have to be as scary and dramatic as we make it out to be. Meet people where they are. Remember where you came from and where you started. If you can take yourself back to that space, you can deliver direct feedback much easier. Don’t come at people from your perspective; go at them from theirs. Be vulnerable, be honest, be human. We often overthink leadership. We set ourselves up for failure, thinking we have to be all-knowing. We don’t. We have to be empathetic and understanding of others’ needs. Remove your ego and level with your people, no one likes to be talked down to. Gain buy-in from trying to understand other points of view first.

One of the trickiest parts of managing a team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. Can you please share with us five suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee? Kindly share a story or example for each.

Five suggestions I would give:

1.) Meet people where they are. Before stating what the issue is, first ask how they think things are going around said situation. An example would be, “Hey Sally, glad you could make the call, I want to talk about XYZ, but first, tell me your thoughts on how the project is going.” By allowing them to speak first, they will not be on defense. It also allows you to see things from their perspective. You might have missed something or gained more clarity, making your job of giving feedback much more natural.

2.) If it has to be a tough conversation, state that from the beginning. People do not appreciate being patronized. An example, “Hi Sally, I’m going to be honest, this isn’t my favorite type of conversation to have, but it’s important. I want to talk to you about…” Be straightforward right from the start. Show humanity and vulnerability. This is critical when having uncomfortable conversations.

3.) Remove all emotion. This is not personal. Stick to the issue, not all the feelings around it. An example would be to lay out the facts and set a plan. If the conversation starts to stray from the intent, you have a foundation to bring it back to. You can say things like, “let’s keep this on topic, so we don’t lose focus on what’s important.”

4.) Be honest and genuine with all the positive things they are contributing. Make the feedback conversational and not forced. Bring an example of a time they overcame a critique you gave them and highlight how well they handled it. This goes back to culture. If your team already trusts you have their best interest at heart, they more open to any feedback you have to give.

5.) Build feedback into everyday interactions. Set up designated times either daily, weekly, or periodically depending on the needs of your people. Tell them in advance, clearly and succinctly, what they can expect in each meeting. If they know ahead of time what each conversation will look like, they come in less anxious and more open-minded.

If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

I am a huge advocate for transparency. Suppose you’re concerned with an email being to harsh or critical, state just that. Open with, “It’s not my intention for this to sound critical, I know how difficult it is to pick up a tone in an email. Trust this is coming from a place of…” Better yet, if you’re overly concerned about tone, pick up the phone.

In your experience, is there a best time to give feedback or critique? Should it be immediately after an incident? Should it be at a different time? Should it be at set intervals? Can you explain what you mean?

Timing is everything. In my experience, the stronger your relationship is with your team, the easier it is to know when and how to approach them. Typically, it’s better sooner rather than later. However, some individuals might process better if given some time. I like coaching on the spot, so I create a culture around that model. My teams always know I’m going to be giving constant feedback. Because they know me, they trust and understand my intention is only to help them. Build a solid culture around feedback, and it will become much easier.

How would you define what it is to “be a great boss”? Can you share a story?

To be a great boss, I believe one needs to ignite a spark in others that motivates them to give their all. A great boss creates an environment where everyone feels they are vital to the team. When I think of great leaders I’ve supported, I think of how they made me feel. I felt important, I felt heard. Early on, one of my first bosses told me not to be two different people. He told me I was “business” Gina and then “fun” Gina. I thought I had to pick. He told me just to be me. It was a simple statement, but it ignited something in me. He was telling me I was good enough just as I was. I was capable. I felt ignited. I want everyone in my presence to feel that way. To create that, I go after others with insane curiosity. I ask about them. I sincerely engage with them. I believe in people. All people. I’ve found that when I listen and actively participate in the conversation, they light up. They feel something they haven’t in a while. If you want to be a great boss, be a great empathizer, a great listener, and a sincere change agent.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would inspire a vulnerability movement. A movement where people would be called to stand in their truth without shame or embarrassment. This movement would allow everyone to see how similar we all are. Without fear of competition and failure, people would come together to help one another. I equate 90% of my success to being vulnerable. To me, vulnerability is courage. I take risks, I ask questions. I’m not afraid to be bold, nor am I afraid to be fragile. The world has come to a place where it’s cool to make life look effortless. Life is not effortless; we are all facing intense challenges from one day to the next. Let’s stop pretending it’s easy. This movement would encourage people to see that they are good enough and full of potential.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite quote of all time… “A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.”

Tim Ferriss

This quote is relevant in my daily life. We spend so much energy trying to avoid conflict versus stating our truths. Every time I’ve overcome my fear of confrontation and stated my truth, my victory was grander than I could have imagined. The more time we spend dancing around challenging issues, the more time is lost to more important things. Things that could lead us to a more successful, fulfilling life.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

https://www.uschag.com

Thank you for these great insights! We really appreciate the time you spent with this.

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